Show vs. Book: Ragtime

America at the start of the 20th century was a crazy time that involved a fair amount of ragtime music, vaudeville and racism — lots and lots of racism. All that is portrayed in the story of Ragtime, which follows the collision of an upper class family from New Rochelle, a family of immigrants and a family of lower class African-Americans.

Side stories along the way detail the atrocities and everyday happenings the nation faced at the time, including the murder trial of Evelyn Nesbitt’s husband, the richness and oddities of JP Morgan and Henry Ford and the up-and-coming magic of Harry Houdini.

But the story truly takes off when Mother — the mother of the upper class family — finds an African American baby in her yard and takes it in. Soon, the child’s mother, Sarah, follows and stays in Mother’s home with her family until she can handle taking care of her baby. While staying with the family, Sarah’s ex-lover, Coalhouse, visits everyday in an attempt to win Sarah back and spend time with his son. Coalhouse is a well-known African-American, ragtime pianist whose car is then trashed and vandalized by the city’s firefighters. It’s enough for Coalhouse to completely erupt and damage the lives and relationships around him until his world spirals and crumbles, leaving all other nearby players to pick up the pieces.

There are too many characters and subplots in the book to detail here, but suffice to say the musical does a wonderful job of zeroing in on the most important and exciting parts of the story and bringing them to life. The novel’s beginning is bogged down by the story of Evelyn Nesbitt, which becomes irrelevant by the end. The novel also includes a lot of details about Morgan, Ford and Houdini. While interesting and helpful in setting the tone of the time, they also don’t do much to move the story along. The musical smartly cuts a lot of this and instead focuses on the Coalhouse storyline, which is the most heartbreaking and also the most socially-conscious.

Because of the visual aspect of the show — the sets, the silhouettes — the story’s symbolism also becomes much more apparent than in the book. The musical, for instance, makes a clear distinction between the immigrants, the upper class white people and the lower class black people. The silhouettes, which are only mentioned in the book as an art form, are used throughout the show and acknowledge the show’s theme: that color and race should not be the most important thing about a person.

Ragtime, the novel, was enjoyable, until I saw the show and saw how much more focused it was in its storytelling — and the incredible music didn’t hurt either.

Get Ragtime in paperback for $10.

Or on your Kindle for $11.99.

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Bryan Cranston To Release Memoir This Fall

“I am the one who knocks” on your…bookshelf? That’s right. Actor Bryan Cranston, who played the infamously beloved Walter White on five seasons of Breaking Bad, is set to release a memoir, A Life in Parts, October 18.

According to Entertainment Weekly, it will includes sections about his most famous roles, including Walter White and the dad on Malcolm in the Middle, as well as sections about his real life.

The best part, though, are the front and back covers of the memoir, which portray Cranston’s uncanny ability to be seemingly friendly and seemingly ferocious. (Truth be told, my fiance and his family ran into Bryan Cranston a few years ago in New York City and said he was extremely friendly.)

Aside from being a big Breaking Bad fan, I have always been fascinated by actors who can vacillate between comedy and drama, as well as those who hit their prime later in life like Cranston did. Coming off one of the most best television series in recent memory, Cranston’s memoir is sure to sell well.

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Review: Year of Yes

year-of-yes-9781476777092_hr-476Recap: When Grey’s Anatomy/ Scandal/ How to Get Away With Murder writer/ creator/ producer/ extraordinaire Shonda Rhimes realized she said “no” a lot, she decided something needed to change. Her sister had pointed out to her during Thanksgiving a few years ago that Shonda Rhimes, the woman who runs ABC’s Thursday night TV show lineup, may have been saying “yes” to more work and more amazing shows — and for that, we are forever grateful — but she wasn’t doing much for herself or her children. When she came to this shocking revelation, she decided that for one year, she would say “yes” to anything and everything that scared her.

And she so wonderfully documented it all for us. She said “yes” to attending events and giving speeches that she would normally turn down without hesitation. She said “yes” to watching what she ate and taking care of her health for the first time in years — and lost a ton of weight doing it. She said “yes” to doing what she wanted, even if that meant losing some friends along the way and ending a relationship. She said “yes” to playing with her children more often. She said “yes” to getting help from a nanny. And then she said “yes” to putting it in a book so we could learn the ways of her almighty awesomeness and badassery.

Analysis: My telling you many of the things Shonda Rhimes said “yes” to does not ruin the book in any way because this book is about so much more than saying “yes” to your fears. It’s about finding yourself and growing up, even when you think you already have. Year of Yes is a unique combination of memoir and self-help book that not only inspires, but energizes. I learned so much about Shonda Rhimes’ life and world, including all the fun details and anecdotes I’d hope for from any memoir. She writes a lot about her family, her career, and her kinship with the character she created, Christina Yang. But I also found that I had some of the same fears as Rhimes does, the same fears that many women have.

This book taught me how to take a compliment (because I deserve it!), and it taught me that difficult conversations are important to have, even if you think you might lose a friend (he/she probably wasn’t a very good one anyway!). I gained a new outlook and perspective from this book. And what’s better: it’s written in the very way Rhimes writes her TV shows. It felt familiar. Rhimes felt like my friend. It was like I could hear Ellen Pompeo as Meredith Grey or Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope saying certain sections of the book out loud. It became clear to me how much of Rhimes’ personality comes out in her TV characters, so it was nice, for once, to see her come out of her shell through this book instead of hiding behind one of her characters.

MVP:  Shonda Rhimes. Publishing a book like is courageous. I couldn’t help but think of all the formerly close friends of hers buying this book and reading the sections about them. Putting it all out there is a scary thing. It is the ultimate “yes,” and Rhimes astounded me by doing it.

Get Year of Yes in paperback for $8.46.

Or get it on your Kindle for $12.99.

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New Memoir from ‘Matilda,’ ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ Alum

mara-1You may not remember the name Mara Wilson, but you’ll remember her when you see the cover of her new book. The now grownup, out-of-the-limelight child actress is due to release a book of essays in September about growing up as the girl who starred in both Matilda and Mrs. Doubtfire, among other movies, according to Entertainment Weekly.

Mara Wilson has left the industry, but apparently has become quite the witty writer over the years. Where Am I Now? will include anecdotes about Wilson’s first kiss, learning about sex, her mother’s death and accepting herself.

She’s one of those people whom I forgot existed, but I was such a huge fan of her movies growing up, I can’t imagine not reading her memoir. I’ve got to think she has a lot of interesting stories to tell.

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‘Hamiltome’ Sold Out on Amazon

51figkm9nulThree days in, and the long-awaited book Hamilton: The Revolution — nicknamed Hamiltome — is already out of stock on Amazon, according to Entertainment Weekly.

The book, by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter, is the entire script of the smash Broadway hit show Hamilton, including annotations by Miranda. The audiobook version of it is partially read by Miranda and — funnily enough — by apparent Hamilton super fan and actress Mariska Hargitay.

Grand Central Publishing has already ordered its third printing of the book. Those who order it now will have to wait about nine to twelve days to get their copy. In the meantime, here are some of audio clips from the book to hold you over until you get your copy! 

Place your order for Hamiltome in hardcover for $24. 

Or on your Kindle for $16.99.

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Review: Baggage

91vkke5j99lRecap: Anna Ray has a secret. For years, she’s carried it around with her, and every on February 17th, she relives the same traumatic incident from her childhood that she can’t talk about. And then she relives the other traumatic incident from her adulthood — the day her husband killed himself. Those two deaths have permanently cursed February 17th for her, only to be made worse when yet another person she knows well dies on the very same date.

Her cousin, Jeannie, has already flown in to stay with her for the week that haunts Anna so much. Now the two of them together become wrapped up in a murder investigation a professor at the college where Anna works. He just so happened to have had a crush on Anna and used to date Jeannie. Investigators won’t leave them alone, even as one of Anna’s students becomes a prime suspect in the case. But the date and the baggage of February 17th also won’t leave Anna alone, and ultimately she has to come to terms with what this all means for her.

Analysis: Author S.G. Redling does a good job of showing us how torn Anna and Jeannie’s characters are and how much baggage they really have. But with all that baggage, it was frustrating to me that the reader doesn’t learn exactly what happened in Anna’s past until the very end. I think it would have made the story’s climax more climactic had we had more insight beforehand. The details about that traumatic childhood incident also could have been explained more plainly — I found that section a little confusing and had to re-read it several times.

That said, Redling builds great suspense as the end of the novel nears, and it has a very Gone Girl thriller feel. The twist at the end is great mystery writing and exactly the kind of twist any reader hopes for. The relationship between Anna and Jeannie is also great, though I found it hard to believe that growing up, Anna never told Jeannie exactly what happened on that February 17th of yesteryear.

MVP: Jeannie. She’s a bit of a hot mess, like Anna, but she’s there for her. She’s a good role model for Anna and completely nonjudgmental, which is exactly the kind of woman Anna needs in her life.

Get Baggage in paperback for $10.58

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Review: The Nightingale

515p3orn1kl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Recap: Viann and Isabelle are two sisters at different points in their lives, who are both dealing with the same struggle: surviving in Nazi-occupied France during WWII. Just because they’re not Jewish doesn’t make things any easier. Viann and her daughter are forced to house a Nazi while Viann’s husband fights in the war. While she prays daily for her husband, she also must continue teaching students at school and being the primary support for her Jewish best friend and neighbor. She carries on with her duties while watching her hometown fall apart and witnessing death and destruction.

While Viann tries to get through each day, Isabelle decides she must do something and joins rebel group. She moves back to France to live with her father, with whom she has a tumultuous relationship. After months of passing notes between other rebels, she takes up an even greater cause: saving injured foreign soldiers by leading them through the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain.

The story goes back and forth between WWII and a time 50 years later, when one of the sisters considers returning to France for the first time since the war.

Analysis: As much as I love books, it takes a lot for one to make me cry, and The Nightingale had been sobbing, but not in a depressing way like My Sister’s Keeper, and not in a unnecessarily depressing way like One Day. The ending of The Nightingale was simply so perfect, so beautiful that it brought tears of joy to my eyes in the best way. These sisters suffered through so much and made so many sacrifices. Their lives didn’t go the way they wanted or expected them to, but the way they lived them was worth it in the end. Without giving away too much, it was just beautiful.

The mystery of which sister was telling the story 50 years later kept me turning pages as much as their own individual stories. Even the less interesting sections about Viann cooking dinner were still fascinating because of the greater issues going on around her.

I also loved that this was a Holocaust fiction novel about two non-Jews. It makes it obvious that even for the groups that weren’t targeted, there was still so much pain and anguish, and that’s not something we hear about too often when reflecting on Europe during WWII.

MVP: Isabelle. She received the least amount of love. Her family constantly pushed her away. She never received the support she needed or deserved. And yet, she showed more love, gave more support and exhibited more strength than any of the characters in the novel. She made life possible for so many people, and that cannot be ignored.

Get The Nightingale in hardcover for $16.13. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $9.99.

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